A big part of Cecilia Chang’s (章曙彤) job as a dean at St John’s University in New York was “to keep the Taiwanese money flowing,” the New York Times reported on Tuesday.
In a story that started on the front, and turned to nearly a full page inside, the newspaper gave details of Chang’s “unlikely lifestyle.”
The 59-year-old Chang committed suicide last month after evidence mounted against her in a case being heard at the US Federal District Court in Brooklyn.
She had pleaded not guilty to a string of charges ranging from stealing over US$1 million from the university to forcing foreign students to do her housework in exchange for tuition grants.
Never able to speak English fluently, Chang enrolled in St John’s master’s program in Asian studies in 1975, and three years after she graduated was named a dean.
“For decades, the Asian studies department had been functioning as a diplomatic outpost for the nationalist government of Taiwan, an arrangement forged during the cold war: The Vincentians, the Catholic religious order who ran St John’s, were conservatives who allied with the nationalists in Taiwan against the Communists in China,” the New York Times said.
The newspaper said that Taiwanese, including Chang’s mother, helped raise money to build Sun Yat-sen Hall on St John’s campus to house the Institute of Asian Studies.
According to the Times, the Taiwanese government sent hundreds of thousands of dollars every year to the university for its Asian studies program.
Chang had no illusions about why the Reverend Joseph Cahill, the university’s president at the time, wanted her as a dean.
It was, she said in her diary, because she was inexperienced and that allowed Father Cahill more control of the Taiwanese money.
The university saw her, she wrote, as a “money tree.”
She said: “In Chinese, money tree means that a tree can grow money and whoever shakes it, the money will fall down.”
The Times said: “One of the ways in which she raised money for the university was by offering honorary degrees to people of wealth or influence, then soliciting donations.”
“Two such honorees were Taiwanese industrialists who were later charged with multimillion-dollar frauds,” it said.
Chang had control of 20 full-tuition grants each year which she gave to students from Taiwan or to the children of friends or associates.
In 2004 she gave one to the granddaughter of Frank Murkowski, a former senator and governor of Alaska.
“Mr Murkowski was among more than two dozen or so members of Congress who had visited Sun Yat Sen Hall, giving talks at the pro-Taiwan conferences organized by Chang,” the New York Times said.
The newspaper said that in 2003 she “apparently” persuaded Murkowski to lobby then-president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) to continue financial support of the university.
Later, she offered Murkowski and his daughter Lisa — by then a US senator in her own right — honorary degrees.
The Times said Chang also tried to get Lisa Murkowski to support the immigration application of Taiwanese businessman Wang You-theng (王又曾), who was under investigation for embezzlement and who was a fugitive and remains so today.
Police investigators told the newspaper that there was evidence linking Chang to the murder of her first husband, the attempted bribery of Taiwanese officials in 2003 and “almost routine fraud” in her expense accounts.